Civilian call handlers could have been overruled by police Sean Rigg inquest hears


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Civilian call handlers who disregarded several 999 calls requesting urgent help for a seriously mentally ill man behaving violently could have been overruled by the police, an inquest has heard. 

Sean Rigg, who died in police custody in August 2008, had a long, well-known history of violence which required police assistance when suffering from acute psychotic breakdown.

Five 999 calls over three hours from the hostel managers where he lived in Brixton, south London, were classified as non-urgent and low priority, the jury has heard.

The inspector in charge of Brixton’s control room in 2008 explained to the jury at Southwark Crown Court how 999 calls are initially graded by a call handler according to their apparent seriousness.

National policing guidelines state incidents where there is actual, or potential for serious injury or damage to property should be classified as the highest grade, requiring an immediate police response, said Inspector Stephen Hughes.

In Mr Rigg’s case, the 999 call handlers were repeatedly told how he had physically threatened carers, had damaged property and posed an ongoing risk of violence to the public because of his psychotic state.

Nevertheless, the hostel staff were told that Mr Rigg did not warrant an immediate police response as there were more urgent cases and limited police resources.

But the inquest heard how the control room police sergeant can, and should overturn such decisions if the information provided by the 999 callers or intelligence from police databases suggest something more serious.

The police, who had helped take Mr Rigg to hospital during previous relapses, should have known about his history of violence. The police were also aware that his hostel specifically cared for people with mental health problems who had committed serious crimes when ill, the inquest has heard.

Mr Rigg was eventually apprehended by officers on the street, three and a half hours after the first 999 call was made, following a call from a passer-by who witnessed him "karate chopping" strangers in the street.

Liam Jung told the jury how he had felt compelled to stop his car and follow Mr Rigg while calling 999 because he was so worried about his bizarre and violent behaviour.

The court heard a recording of the call in which Mr Jung describes how an “insane”, “topless” man was attacking strangers.

The call handler is captured replying: “He must have mental health issues.”

Mr Jung told the jury that it was obvious from Mr Rigg’s half-naked appearance and his behaviour that he was mentally unwell.

The inquest continues.